In late 2017, Annawan Illinois native Beau Thompson embarked on an a huge goal. He set out to collect One Million Chicago Cubs baseball cards.
As a child of the 80’s, Beau grew up in the heart of the “junk-wax” era. He began collecting in 1988, and it was then that the lifelong Cubs fan began accumulating cards of his favorite players and teams. Over the next 30 years, his collection ballooned to approximately 1.5 million cards, taking up a good portion of the basement of his Wisconsin home.
He launched his site onemillioncubs.net to document the journey, and fellow collectors can follow along with the countless purchases, trades, and fan experiences Beau documents along the way.
I sat down with Beau at the 2019 National to discuss the project, his passion for collecting, and we explore what drives a person to pursue such an ambitious undertaking.
WaxPackHero: Beau, we both grew up within 40 miles of each other in Central Illinois. That area is fairly split between Cubs and Cardinals fans. How did you end up being a Cubs fan?
Beau: When I was a kid I had a babysitter whose husband was a die-hard Chicago fan and he would read Vineline, Sports Illustrated, and the Tribune. So when I was four years old I could name the Cubs lineup. My dad was a Cubs fan and always had the game on, and Harry Carey was basically the sound track to my youth. Cubs baseball was always in the background of all our summer activities.
WaxPackHero: You’ve mentioned that you used to have a wider focus with your collection. What was the inspiration to narrow that focus into the Million Cubs Project that you’re pursuing now?
Beau: The ultimate lightbulb moment was when I had acquired over a million trading cards, and many of those didn’t have much “monetary” value. I’m a collector and wasn’t going to throw them away. I had given a few to neighbor kids, and had done a few bulk trades, so that had me thinking that might be a way to do something with all these cards I had acquired. So basically, how can I get rid of all these cards and get something back that I would actually like. The million was really because it’s a good milestone, and at the time that was about how many cards I had. So I wanted to try and flip that million random cards, into a million Cubs. Since then, I’ve probably acquired another million in the last two years which makes for good trade bait.
WaxPackHero: So you’re a couple years into the process now, what has surprised you about the project so far?
Beau: That I’ve continued to do it! Throughout my card collecting, I’ve been ADD with my purpose of collections. I would get bored with several different collections throughout. A year ago I wrote a story on my blog about rediscovering the joy I had in the hobby. This is fun, getting feedback, meeting you and the About the Cards guys, and others on social media is something I enjoy! Also, helping other collectors through the trades feels good. It’s hard to nail down one specific thing about the project. Goals should always be backed by quantifiable numbers, so I like seeing those numbers tick up every week.
WaxPackHero: So along those lines, we know the “what” goal: One Million Cubs. Do you also have any goals about “How” you go about accomplishing it?
Beau: When it started I didn’t have anything, but as it grew I wanted to help other collectors. As I built a following on Twitter, I would have more and more people with questions. I’d answer those and that would spur blog posts. Things like saving on shipping, etc came up along the way. When I started I had no idea about PayPal shipping, flat rate boxes, etc. That info was passed to me, so one of my goals through the project to to share what I’m learning along the way.
WaxPackHero: On your blog you’ve written about some of the more unique deals and trades that have come from the project. Do you have one specific trade that is your most memorable so far?
Beau: The oddest trade started with a Craiglist collection I purchased. There was one row of non-sports cards and one had a piece of gum stuck to the back. I took a picture of it and put it out on Twitter because I thought it was unique, and within ten minutes someone reached out and wanted to trade for it. He collects pieces of gum. He sent me Cubs cards and I sent him a 40 year old piece of gum. It was still attached to the card so I put it all in a penny sleeve, a toploader, and sent the whole thing off.
WaxPackHero: So what do your friends and family say about this project? You joke about your wife being on and off again about the project depending on how much is spilling into the basement living room.
Beau: Yeah, if I keep it organized she’s ok with it. My family knows I like ambitions goals. When I worked in radio I set a goal to broadcast 100 games over the course of the season. I did 112 and blogged about the experience along the way. So then I set a goal of 150 the next year which come out to about 9-10 games per week. That’s an average of 1.5 games per night. I ended with 153. My family thought it was impossible. I had my doubts, but I did it. So I like a challenge.
WaxPackHero: You’re about a third of the way to a million. What have you learned about yourself along the way?
Beau: That’s a tough question. I think I’ve improved on several things but haven’t mastered anything yet. I’ve learned a lot about social media as a whole, and also a lot about the analytics of social media. I’ve improved on my organization, although my wife may disagree on that. I’ve learned to be more efficient. I’ve learned more about saving money and the value of a dollar.
WaxPackHero: It sometimes seems like we in the hobby community are a band of misfits. The rise of social media has allowed some of us to make connections when we otherwise would never have the opportunity. Since you started getting connected with collectors online, how does that compare to collectors you know locally?
Beau: I’m near Madison now, I’ve been there about 5 years, but I don’t have a lot of local people I know who collect. When I was in Illinois working at Western Illinois University, I had a few more friends who were involved in the hobby. Now, with Social Media, that’s been my outlet to building these friendships and connections to others in the hobby!
WaxPackHero: Thanks Beau! It was great getting a chance to finally meet face to face, and good luck with your continued pursuit of the goal!
He’s done several other interviews including this great piece by Mark Del Franco (@delspacefranco) in Sports Collectors Digest and this Video interview on the About the Cards podcast (@AboutTheCards).